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Aayush, the 10-year-old braveheart

Himanshu Mehta

Updated: November 8, 2010, 1:27 PM IST
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Dear all,

Those of you who know me well are aware that I was recently operated upon at Medanta, The Medicity, Gurgaon, and was hospitalized for little over a week. This post is not at all about me though?

As I came out of my own sedated haze in my bed at Medanta, The Medicity, Gurgaon, I became aware of a small bundle, wrapped in blankets, lying quietly in the bed next to me.

The only signs of life the bundle would show were occasional whimpers or cries of absolute terror at least twice a day when gloved nurses and doctors administered to it, veiled by a white curtain dividing our halves of the room. At times, the bundle, still under swathes of blankets, would be wheeled out on a stretcher to one knew not where. I learnt later that some of the procedures were so complex and painful that they required general anaethesia in an operation theatre.

My interest piqued, I learnt of a real-life story that would move the most battle-hardened of journalists and military men, if not exactly rend their hearts. ?The bundle acquired a name for me - Aayush Priyadarshi - a wiry 10-year-old.

Aayush and a six-year-old friend were flying a kite on their terrace back home in Samastipur, Bihar, when the kite got entangled in some extremely high-voltage (11,000 volts am told) wires overhanging the terrace.

While this other kid was keen on retrieving the kite, Aayush refused, realising the inherent danger, and went downstairs. Hardly had he reached the end of the stairwell when he heard a terrifying wail: 'Aayush Bachao!' He ran back up to the terrace and to his horror saw his friend writhing in pain, skin aflame and peeling off him as the high-voltage wires sucked his life-energy away.

Aayush, without a moment's notice, grabbed a pole lying nearby and tried pulling the wires away from his friend. You may call it foolhardy but I call it brave, especially when the act involves a 10-year-old trying to save a friend's life with no regard to his own. Unfortunately, Aayush, a braveheart if ever there was one, too got electrocuted.

Aayush and his friend were rushed to a hospital in Patna where the six year old succumbed to his injuries three days later. Aayush was brought to Medanta where he lost toes of both his feet and had his arms amputated.

If not for the efforts of good samaritans - Ms. Minny Singh and Mr. MBL Bhargava - Aayush would have found world-class medical intervention difficult to access as the family ran out of funds three days into Aayush's stay at Medanta. Eventually, he ended up at Medanta for over a month and we were both discharged within couple of hours of each other. Aayush will now be looked after by a clinic at Patna.

Aayush's family is now deep in debt due to this tragedy but the object of this post is not to help try raising funds to mitigate their debt burden. Aayush now needs proper rehabilitation - ongoing medical care, education in a special school perhaps and prosthetics. Just equipping him with prosthetics will cost well in excess of Rs 10 lakh and am perhaps assuming now but they just might need replacing as Aayush goes from boy to man?

Mr. Bhargava, Ms. Singh and their friends tried mitigating the cost of Aayush's stay at Medanta and I am told that Medanta too helped by waiving off certain charges or discounting them heavily. A very dear friend, Humsa Dhir, helped arrange a print story in The Times of India while yet another, Anju Juneja, helped with a television news story on Star News.

Efforts are on to raise funds for Aayush's rehabilitation and we are now looking for ways to route funds to Aayush in a manner that is transparent and can best utilise these funds.

Aayush's immediate needs have been taken care of - he was already looking ahead with optimism that only the very young seem blessed with when I waved him goodbye from my bed. It is imperative that any financial help that flows in now is used expressly only to rehabilitate him. Handing over financial help directly to the family may not be the best way to help Aayush find his bearings after the trauma he underwent. Additionally, a peasant family suddenly coming into money in the badlands of Bihar (please, no offence meant) may find themselves endangered. It is for this reason alone that Aayush's contact details are not being shared right now though eventually they will be.

We would like you to help this post go viral (hope you can post this on your social networks' home pages, email, colleagues, friends, family - just ideas). A benefactor's friend, who has passion for filmmaking and short videos, is being sounded out on whether he would able to put together something powerful that we could upload on YouTube.

We are inviting suggestions on how you think we can spread awareness about Aayush, raise funds and then route them to him in a transparent and useful manner. An idea taking root in our minds is that of routing funds directly to the service providers and the prosthetic manufacturers through a bank account that is administered by an NGO.

Aayush's tragedy is just one amongst a thousand similar ones that happen across our country every day. The genesis of this incident lies in the shoddy work done by a civic agency or the contractor it was outsourced to. Am told the agency responsible can be booked under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code but then again it is a bail-able offence. Laughable but for the tragic circumstances that a young life finds itself in due to criminal negligence by a civic agency.

It is this country's sheer misfortune that in a country with 400 million poor (some estimates put the figure at 800 million) world class medical care continues to be available only in the metros and is prohibitively expensive, when available at all, even 63 years after Independence.

There continues to be a dearth of doctors like Dr. Devi Shetty and medical institutes like the Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore. Universal micro-health insurance schemes like Yeshasvini, Narayana Hrudayalaya's micro-health insurance scheme for Karnataka's farmers, are more of an exception rather than a rule.

In a country where only 15 per cent of the total populace has access to health insurance, including the 2 per cent that can afford private health insurance, shouldn't the right to medical care be ingrained in the right to life? Why is it that while it is an exciting time in global healthcare since most diseases are curable, treatment remains prohibitively expensive, excluding poor people from the health care system? For instance, 100 years after the first heart surgery, only 8 per cent of the world's population can afford one!

One understands the oft-repeated arguments about creation & maintenance of world-class medical care infrastructure, including attracting & retaining talent requiring oodles of money but then one wonders why we can't have a better model than one borrowed from the United States, & one that will surely collapse one day, exactly as it has in the parent country, even as it fails to cover a large section of the population?

Given am of a certain vintage, while I still dimly remember the government of India's popular 20 point programme am not too sure if it was us snotty young urchins or Ajit, Bollywood's villainous lion, who parodied the popular 'garibi hatao!' to 'garib hatao, garibi apne aap hat jayega.' Well, it certainly seems to be going that way with the system intent on denying the poor the most fundamental of rights.

It needn't be so, especially where the health sector is concerned. It needs to look no further than Narayana Hrudayalaya, which seems to have a higher profit margin than most private American hospitals despite it's avowed principle of never turning a patient away for lack of funds.

What is it that we can do to make our thieving politicians & bureaucrats step on the gas, so to speak, to enable us live a better quality of life even as they pull out all stops wining and dining President Obama, opening up our lucrative markets to the US companies & rewarding him with billions of dollars worth of arms purchases, with your money & mine, for his unstinting support in India's own war against terror? Should you be tempted to be the usual argumentative Indian self I suggest you take a look at how the Peace Prize winner endeavours to keep the strategic balance in south-east Asia, showering our very nemesis in our war against terror with military aid & turning a blind eye to whatever stunt it feels compelled to pull from Mumbai to Kandahar to show us how helpless & impotent we are faced with their guile & rage.

We are told all this commerce favouring the United States of America and a stiff upper lip every time we are attacked from across our western border will get us a permanent seat at the high table called the United Nations Security Council, right alongside the big 5.

To me, it is just a big ego trip for an elitist few. I would much rather have my dear country a few more notches up on the United Nation's Human Development Index when it is declared next & be able to live freely in a country where, to quote Tagore, the mind is without fear & the head is held high, where the words come out of the depths of truth & the clear stream of reason has not lost it's way.

Isn't it time we asked: how many years must we, as a people exist, before we are allowed to be free...truly free?

Again, this is not a post to impress you with my interpretation of geo-strategic affairs or scholarship, or offer, what may seem to many, superficial solutions to our problems but am angry, really angry. I wrote this post for young Aayush whose cries of terror remain with me even 4 days after my discharge from the hospital.

Here's wishing everyone a very happy Deepawali and a great festive season ahead. I doubt if Aayush will have one for some time but given the spunk the young punk showed all through the trying times I doubt he can be held back for very long!

Please email Mr. MBL Bhargava and Ms. Minny Singh at mblbhargava@hotmail.com and minny_singh@hotmail.com respectively should you wish to help with Aayush's rehabilitation in any way.
First Published: November 8, 2010, 1:27 PM IST

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